The flat-top AR-15s with picatinny rails we’re all familiar with has come an awfully long way since the M16s of old with their carry handles, but some of us still like that old school look.
If you’re rocking a classic carry handle and want to run an optic as well, we’ve got you covered. Not every rifle scope or red dot sight works well with an AR-15, but fortunately, there’s a number of options out there.
The original AR-15 rifle had an integral carry handle built into the upper receiver. This acted as a rear sight and provided users with an easy way to lug their rifle around. As time went on, various carry handle scope mounts were produced to allow for the mounting of optics in addition to the iron sights.
Eventually, the integral carry handle was supplanted by the flat-top upper receivers we find now, but even those flat-tops can have carry handles mounted. These rail-mount detachable carry handles can then have an optic attached.
These optics can be ones that are designed specifically for mounting to a carrying handle, or you can mount another picatinny-compatible optic by using a carry handle mount adaptor with a rail section.
What Are The Different Types Of AR-15 Carry Handle Scope?
First up we have the standard carry handle-specific scopes that mimic the classic Colt carry handle optic from the Vietnam era. These are low-profile optics with very simple adjustment knobs for windage and elevation and are great for that old-school look.
Next, we have more modern optics that are attached to a picatinny rail adaptor. These can range from the military-grade Trijicon ACOG to any of the various holographic and reflex sights that are out there.
Both of these options are great and have slightly different mounting requirements, but you can go either way depending on your goals for your rifle, and your personal preferences.
How Do Carry Handle Scopes For AR-15s Work?
Optics that are designed specifically to work with carry handles without requiring a rail adaptor is simple and easy to install. They were designed originally for designated marksmen in the field, and they were designed to be mounted and removed without tools.
The optic includes a clamp that attaches to most mil-spec carry handles without the need of any fancy gunsmithing or even the use of a carry handle rail adapter.
For the other optics, you’ll need an adaptor. There are a number of picatinny rail adaptors and related products for AR-15 carry handles that will allow you to mount all kinds of optics with ease. These use the same basic clamp design, but will require tools (usually a hex key) to install and remove.
Any optic with a quick-detach mount can of course still be removed almost instantly because you’re essentially just adding a rail section to the top of the handle.
What Do You Look For In The Best AR-15 Carry Handle Scopes?
When choosing an AR-15 carry handle scope, you have to keep a few things in mind.
First, it’s important to consider the basics: is it a good scope? Modern optics should be waterproof and fog proof and as shockproof as possible. You’ll also need to look at things like reticle style (mil-dot and MOA-dot are popular, as well as various BDC options) and the amount of eye relief you need.
For most AR-15s, a good 5.56/.223 BDC reticle is a great way to go as it’ll make those longer-range shots easier to compensate for. You’ll also want something with good light transmission and good clarity as you’re dealing with a fairly low-magnification optic in most cases.
Carry Handle Compatibility
Next, we have to look and see if the AR-15 scope works well on a carry handle. Many optics will require you to lift your head too much from the comb of the rifle stock, giving you more of a chin weld than a cheek weld, which is not what you want.
You also have to decide whether you want the classic AR-15 carry handle scope or a more modern optic. In general for a true tactical build, you’re going to be using a flat-top receiver without a carry handle.
Form, Function, Or A Mix Of Both?
A carry handle is honestly mostly an aesthetic choice these days, so go with the optic that fits the look and feel of the rifle that you’re going for. If you’re going very retro, the old-school tube scope is a good look. If you’re going for an M16A1 clone, you might want to go with the classic ACOG.
If you just happen to have a rifle with a carry handle already and just want an optic, then a more modern red dot or holosight might be the way to go, especially if you’re looking to build something for the range or for defensive use.
Best Carry Handle Scopes For AR-15s Reviewed
With all that said and done, let’s take a look at some optics.
1. Vortex Optics Sparc (Our Top Pick)
The Vortex Optics Sparc Gen II is a simple and rugged red dot that is fairly affordable for what it is. You need a rail mount, but then you can always move the optic to another rifle later if you want to change things up. You won’t be stuck with something that has to be mounted to a carry handle.
As with all things Vortex you get a lifetime warranty and some excellent features. On the new SPARC you get ten total brightness settings, including two different night vision-specific settings (not that you’ll have a night vision optic mounted on your carry handle, but it’s nice to have the option).
The Barska Electro Sight is a modern recreation of the classic Colt carry handle scope. It’s a fixed-power 4x with a narrow 20mm lens. It’s designed to be lightweight and low-profile, and it is meant to attach directly to the carry handle via a very simple mount.
It also has a built-in bullet compensator that helps you make shots out to 500 meters with ease. The 4x magnification is just about perfect for the AR-15 platform, and you still get the use of your iron sights. What’s not to love?
The Trijicon ACOG is a pretty common sight on top of carry handles (pun intended) and is the gold standard for military-style optics for the AR platform. This is still in service with the US Marines, Army, and other military branches around the world.
The classic ACOG is a 4x with a 32mm objective lens and an aircraft-grade aluminum frame. It’s designed to take a beating without losing zero and the interior is nitrogen-purged to prevent fogging in any conditions.
You also get the standard ACOG reticle which provides both BDC and ranging capabilities for the 5.56/.223 AR-15 platform.
Next, we have another classic military optic, the EOTech 512 holographic sight. This is one of the most popular holos around and is commonly found on everything from civilian home defense rifles to current-issue military rifles.
The classic EOTech circle reticle makes it easy to compensate for shots out to 200 meters but is quick and snappy for close-range shooting in tight spaces. This optic is beloved by our men and women in uniform for a reason, and anyone looking to mount a reflex/holo on their carry handle will love it too.
We’re going to end on Brownell’s Retro 4x carry handle scope because it is the best example of the classic carry handle scope that isn’t an antique.
Brownell’s actually tracked down the Japanese company that made the original Colt AR-15 carry handle scopes that were issued to US troops and this is based on that design, but with modern glass and internals for much, much better performance.
This 4x has fully multi-coated lenses and is water and fogproof for the absolute best possible performance from the classic carry handle scope design.
The most accurate and high-quality modern recreation of the classic carry handle
The AR-15 is an extremely versatile and customizable platform, which means that there’s a rifle build out there for everyone. If you want a carry handle and an optic, there’s plenty of great options out there that can help you get your build to where you want it.
All of these optics are great in their own right, but they work especially well with that classic AR-15 carry handle.